(By: Adam Millar)
Impromptu blog alert. Last week I touched on the subject of COVID-19, and how I wasn’t able to be a spectator at the beloved Strade Bianche in Siena, Italy because the race was cancelled. Well, in the space of a week, things have escalated to unprecedented levels, and the world is in for it now. Here’s what I've experienced over here in Italy.
The morning of Sunday March 8th, I left Tuscany en route to Sanremo in the province of Liguria, just 20km from the Italian border with France. My route required taking a bus, three trains, and a taxi from Colle di Val d’Elsa - Florence - Pisa - Genoa - Sanremo. Honestly, I tried to remain calm about the virus situation; I would just wash my hands and be careful. But that morning, Italian Prime Minister Conte announced a lockdown of Lombardy and the 14 surrounding provinces. That scared me a bit, but Liguria was relatively unaffected by the virus in comparison.
My parents were quick to suggest I make a bee-line for the Nice airport and fly home. I figured that my area was far away from the lockdown zone, and relatively unaffected, so I’d not make any rash decisions and see where things go. As you know, Prime Minister Conte then announced that the entire country of Italy was to be on lockdown. He ordered all businesses and restaurants to close in effort to curb the virus spreading. This changed things quite a bit.
Currently, the streets of Sanremo and the Ligurian Coast are almost completely deserted. Supermarkets and pharmacies remain open, but that's all. You can often spot groups of five to ten people outside a pharmacy, waiting for their prescriptions to be filled. Anybody that you see walking on the sidewalk has a mask on, which is responsible. Cars are infrequent, even in the usually-bustling city centres of these beautiful beach towns. I would describe it as a similar feeling to being out on your bike at 5:00 in the morning - a few people about but really quite deserted. It’s like this at every hour of the day right now. And weirder still, the roads up in the surrounding Ligurian mountains are E M P T Y. I’ve gone hours without seeing a car or human being. I haven’t seen a fellow cyclist in three days maybe, can’t recall the last one I saw. It might have been Mark Cavendish actually.
Before anyone jumps up and yells at me for not following Prime Minister Conte’s lockdown order, let me explain my situation. I’m in an Airbnb by myself, three kilometers above Sanremo in the quiet hills. I leave the building once a day to go for a bike ride by myself, during which I most certainly do not come within one meter of anybody. If this isn’t self-isolating, I don’t know what is. The scary thing is that the Carabinieri (government military police) are out en masse to make sure people are staying home unless for necessary reasons like health or work-related tasks. I don’t actually think I could be arrested or fined for riding my bike alone, but who knows.
Right now, my plans to carry on to southern Spain and the UK have been scrapped. My mom’s side of the family was due to rendez-vous near Calpe to visit my aging grandparents, but that’s obviously not happening. Today, Justin Trudeau announced a warning against all international travel and is limiting inbound flights to Canada as part of a series of measures to limit the spread of COVID-19. My stance is that I’m here on this trip, in a fantastic place, living in isolation - why would I fly home? The impact of COVID-19 has only just begun in Canada, so there’s no sense in me flying into the fire all over again, crossing paths with hundreds if not thousands of people in the multiple airports along the way. The thing I’m currently dealing with is trying to cancel my three remaining flights, but my phone doesn’t have any minutes left on it to call the airlines. The Vodafone store in Sanremo is closed by law, and the website isn’t cooperating in my effort to add minutes to my phone plan. A comedy of errors.
I would be remiss if I did not share these thoughts with my fellow Canadians. I’m far from a scientist, but I’ve seen first hand the impact that COVID-19 is having on Italy. The devastation and disruption here has been so bad in large part because Italian citizens didn’t take this seriously at first. I cannot imagine the sadness and grief and hopelessness that the families and medical professionals are feeling here. Canada has only just begun to be shaken by this thing, so everyone needs to prepare and not underestimate the potential severity. You may be a healthy individual who can shake off a respiratory infection with ease, but there are countless people who cannot, including your loved ones. Stay at home if you can. Wash your hands. Make sure your elderly loved ones do the same. There’s a phrase circulating Italy right now, “Andrà tutto bene”, everything will be alright. I hope so.